Ulster Orchestra: Milestone is marked in fitting style
The Ulster Orchestra made the best possible start to its 50th anniversary season on Friday with the announcement that their star principal conductor Rafael Payare has agreed to a further two-year extension of his contract, with the title of music director.
The other good news at Friday's concert to a packed Ulster Hall was that Rafael's wife, the world-class American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, was performing the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No 2.
Her virtuosity shone in this sombre piece which was the gateway to the composer's last period of his difficult artistic life, and she brought out all the beauty and the lyricism amid the bleakness of this work.
The Ulster Orchestra's backing was also superb.
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The soloist was given sustained waves of applause and clearly there is a special chemistry between Alisa Weilerstein and the Ulster audience.
There is also a remarkable chemistry between Rafael Payare and the Ulster Orchestra, a point he stressed in his excellent pre-concert talk with his wife, and the orchestra's MD Richard Wigley, who asked all the right questions.
The finale was Rakhmaninov's much-treasured Second Symphony, and the entire orchestra excelled in this magnificent showpiece which thundered to its memorable conclusion, to more sustained applause.
This was a brilliant start to a special year.
The old joy and panache of the orchestra is back, and tickets are like gold dust for next Friday's 50th anniversary concert with our own much-treasured Barry Douglas playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1.
On Wednesday, the orchestra will mark its anniversary by playing 50 mini-concerts in and around Belfast.